An architect's rendering of the proposed new chapel at CYO/Camp Howard. (Courtesy CYO/Camp Howard)
An architect's rendering of the proposed new chapel at CYO/Camp Howard. (Courtesy CYO/Camp Howard)
A final round of funding outreach has begun for a new chapel/youth center that will rise atop a hill overlooking Camp Howard in the near future.

The proposed 5,600-square-foot building will be the spiritual hub of Oregon’s Catholic camp and a home for Mass, prayer activities and large gatherings. These multipurpose activities include conferences, music and theater presentations, and liturgical services. Seating will accommodate 300 or more and will consist of chairs rather than pews. The front of the gathering space will include an 18-inch elevated platform. As a result, the venue can be fully customized for the various types of gatherings.

“I feel this eventual accomplishment will be the most meaningful and important of everything we have done because we will leave that tangible mark on the camp that says, ‘We are followers of Jesus,’” said Sister of St. Mary of Oregon Krista von Borstel, executive director of CYO/Camp Howard.

The organization has collected about $3 million for the chapel/youth center and has about $1.5 million dollars left to raise.

Though the chapel/youth center will be used for many purposes, it will always be the sacred space of the camp, Sister Krista explained.

“The building will have a presence of Christ,” she said. “It will be standing visibly on the high spot in camp. My hope for kids who have not experienced Christ is to have their hearts and minds awakened to something that is missing in their lives and to pique their curiosity to explore.”

The parcel where the chapel/youth center will sit once was home to the old dining hall, which was replaced in 2018 with a new 7,600-square- foot facility.

Seed money for the chapel — $500,000 — came in a bequest from Elsie Franz Finley, who specified that it be used for a chapel at Camp Howard.

“When we get this project done, the camp together with its chapel/youth center and facilities will be well set for the next century,” said Sister Krista.

The space will lead to new possibilities at Camp Howard. With overnight lodging capacity at 300, there would be space for everyone to gather at one time and in one place. The new dining hall already can feed all campers and participants at one time instead of running separate meal shifts as was done in the past.

These new facilities increase opportunities to rent the camp to other outside groups, helping sustain CYO/Camp Howard financially.

Henry Fitzgibbon, the retired architect who helped design the new chapel/youth center along with the camp’s overall building plan, called the old chapel “kind of a dismal space.” Contrasting sharply, the new structure will offer more natural light and sliding doors that allow the indoor space to meld into an outdoor plaza.

“It has a nice sense of holiness about it,” said Fitzgibbon, a member of St. John Fisher Parish in Southwest Portland. “It’s very simple in keeping with other new buildings at camp. And it clearly looks like a church sitting up on a hill. It’s so important to what we are trying to do up there toward connecting our youth more closely to the faith.”

Soderstrom Architects of Portland has continued to lead the design, with Max Magac taking the mantle.

Supporters of Camp Howard are excited about the project. “The chapel/youth center is really an affirmation of the faith element for all of Camp Howard,” said Brian Thompson, chairman of the CYO/Camp Howard board. “The focus is on Jesus and the Catholic faith.”

He imagines not only big, wonderful camp Masses but also weddings, gatherings of outside faith groups and potentially secular events. Not all who come to camp and enter the building will be Catholic. Thompson sees that as an opportunity to evangelize those not closely connected with the Christian faith.

“The camp chapel may give a memory of worship to kids or anyone who comes,” he explained.

Gary Epping, a major benefactor of CYO/Camp Howard, said the chapel/youth center will be the crown jewel of camp and can foster faith development in many ways.

“In addition to functioning as a chapel, this multipurpose building will provide meeting space for kids to explore their faith outside of a structured Mass setting, allowing them to communicate and emphasize faith and issues regarding faith in today’s world in other ways,” Epping said. “That’s how faith grows, through meaningful connections with friends, the church and others in the community.”